Veteran Stories:
Bill Hemmings

Army

  • Portrait of Bill Hemmings in uniform.

    Bill Hemmings
  • Discharge Certificate

    Bill Hemmings
  • M10 sunk in wet quagmire pulled out after area was cleared of Germans

    Bill Hemmings
  • Peter Ell, Bill Hemming's M10 driver and friend

    Bill Hemmings
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"And that was extremely lucky because if that hadn’t happened, I’m sure I wouldn’t be talking to you today for sure."

Transcript

My name is Bill Hemmings. William really but I like to be called Bill. I was born in Toronto, Ontario, November the 24th, 1922. We got ashore and we moved up into a plain which is in front of Caen, C-A-E-N I think it is. And the Germans were still in control of Caen. Prior to August the 10th, I had diarrhea or dysentery to a degree that I was told to go to the hospital. I didn’t want to leave and I thought I was failing everybody but I was weak and I was a mess.

At the time, I thought maybe it was just that my stomach was upset because I didn’t have the internal fortitude that I should have. But I found out that there was quite a few people that had dysentery.

So here’s what happened to us. I’m in the hospital, prior to the 10th of August, and the Troop Sergeant is moving L-troop into a forward position and he took them too far, right into the German lines, in a place called Quesnay Q-U-E-S-N-A-Y, Woods. The four M-10s [gun motor carriages] are destroyed and most of the 20 men are killed. Some of them were wounded, some were taken prisoner. So what happened to me was, was I returned from the hospital and I found that I was now the only one left of L-troop and a new M-10 arrived, with even some modifications on it that we didn’t have on the one I was in originally. And Peter Ell, he was the driver and he brought it up. All of a sudden I’m a sergeant now. And they gave me two truck drivers to be part of my crew. The crew is normally five, with Peter and myself and the two truck drivers gave us four. So these guys had no training on the vehicle that we’re in or know what their job is or anything.

So anyway, here I am, in charge of L-4. It was a little bit hectic to say the least. Four days later, on the 14th of August, the high command decided to bomb Caen, everybody was ready to make a breakthrough. And all the troops were waiting to surge ahead and the Lancasters and Halifaxes came over. It was a bright morning. We could see the crew about 150 feet up in the air. You could see them up there, above our positions. They’re going along, bomb bay doors are closed. All of a sudden, they open them and all of a sudden, we’re under a bomb attack by our own aircraft.

Another incident, and this is in northern Holland or Germany, I think it was in Germany. We were given the job of protecting a mobile shower, which had been shot up the day before. We parked ourselves there, we didn’t see any enemy, nobody shot at us and we dug our slit trenches and got our weapons out and made a position to defend. We put the 50-calibre machine gun on its ground mount, on the ground. I wondered what we were supposed to do and suggested that we, we fire into the woods ahead of us periodically, just to let the enemy know we’re there. So we fired the 50-calibre every once in a while into the woods. And during the wee hours of the morning, the gun jammed. And the gun had been aimed rather upwards, so it had, so that it sort of leveled out when it hit the woods, oh, about 200 or 300 yards away. And I had lowered the muzzle and gave a long burst on the 50-calibre.

I heard a strange noise but I didn’t think anything of it. Never thought I’d shot anybody or anything. Anyway, in the morning, and when you’re on these jobs, the morning’s a dangerous time for Germans to counterattack or do whatever they’re going to do. So as soon as it starts to get anywhere close to daylight, everybody’s hanging in there and everybody’s awake and ready. And the morning came along, we had a German soldier approach with his hands up, Bob Reekie, I could have shot him, the son of a gun. Anyway, Bob says, look at that pair of beautiful binoculars around that guy’s neck. And I said, Bob, stay the hell here, the other side of our guns, just in case there’s something going to happen here. Stay where you’re at until he approach-, gets right here. You can have the damn binoculars. What had happened was, when I shot, I killed the sergeant, who was leading a group to attack us. And he was carrying a Panzerfaust which is an anti-tank bazooka type of thing, to blow up our tank. And when that happened, the Germans fled, except for this guy, who turned out to be Polish, and he told us what had happened to his sergeant. And he became a prisoner of war. And that was extremely lucky because if that hadn’t happened, I’m sure I wouldn’t be talking to you today for sure.

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